Lawmakers to discuss prisoners’ right to marry

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Inmates serving life sentences are considered “civilly dead” as far as Rhode Island state law goes, which strips them of the right to marry.

Two convicted killers at the Adult Correctional Institute in Cranston have been fighting to change that, and state lawmakers are considering restoring that right.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Edith Ajello, D-Providence, said Wednesday that it’s bigger than just marriage rights, calling the law outdated.

“This is a 1909 law so archaic, based as I understand on English common law,” she said.

As they serve life sentences, Cody-Allen Zab and John Pacheco, Jr. are suing the ACI, claiming it’s unconstitutional to prevent them from getting married.

The ACI asked Rep. Ajello to come up with legislation to allow the convicted killers to marry, which would, in essence, negate the lawsuit. But after she proposed the bill, she gave it more thought and decided it wasn’t broad enough.

“I’ve come to believe this law has no place on our books,” Ajello added.

Ajello said the law mentions nothing about life sentences with parole, so her question is: What happens if someone is “civilly dead,” but then gets released on parole?

“We should step back and just take that whole paragraph out of the law because it just doesn’t make sense,” she said.

The House Judiciary Committee is set to hear Ajello’s legislation Wednesday night. It’s focused solely on the right to marry, but she hopes an amendment will be added to make it broader. She’s hopeful the bill will pass this session.

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